philly stands up action camp

more info at our underconstruction, but pretty functional new website.

Hope to see you in West Philly, January 15-17th, 2011!!!


Thank you to Everyone who participated in our workshop, and to all of you could not be with us in person but sent delegates or communicated by email. We’re pumped to share the notes from Detroit with you all. Stay tuned for our next steps and calls to action.

We came up with five areas for a Sexual Assault/ Transformative Justice based network to build up, based on the needs of those of us in the visioning session:

1. communication
2. tech web
3. education training
4. gatherings
5. resources list

create understanding that sexual assault (SA) is not acceptable
awareness of growing infrastructure that will not ignore SA

campaigns to end SA and the violent perspectives that perpetuate it
dating violence protective orders in all 50 states

memory of processes that have been initiated in their communities and where they have gone so that if I call some chapter and say “hey this person just rolled into town, I’ve heard things, what can you tell me?” they might have something to say

commitment to not use state violence to “solve” interpersonal violence while recognizing that until we build effective community-based alternatives to the state, use of state violence may be a survivor’s best or only option, and they are not “bad radicals” for doing what they can to be safe

better internet assault-laws awareness that internet stalking involves a lot and is mostly totally unprotected

organizing at universities– policy and attitude changes

collective strategy

preventing violence before it happens

develop anti-oppression analysis

regional meetups
connections to other programs and resources: trainings, financial, knowledge
keep track of perpetrators
keeping communication around safety in transitory social scenes
shared analysis/ points of unity
end goals/ collective vision
caucuses/ identity groups
regional news
movement documentation
outside “objective” guidance
network lends credibility to local groups
develop anti-oppression analysis
consistent point people
analysis of successes and failures, public process for reflection
compile process stories
identifying allies

caucuses/marginalized identities
contact list
message board

skills for healing, expanding the idea of individual and community health
accountability process successes
sustaining community health
step-by-step process
skills for personal healing
gender analysis for parents
sensitivity trainings for professionals/healthcare workers
healing and transformation of people doing with work (body-centered)
how to talk to those who aren’t on our page (non-activists)
working with/pushing mainstream orgs
how to support people who are both survivor and perpetrator (bust the binary)
how to reach different communities/build bridges
how to get perpetrator’s invested in process
popular education strategies
how to deal with gossip/conflicting narratives
support the survivor supporters
how to involve all genders

Transformative Justice (TJ)
incorporating SA response and TJ into any organization

RESOURCES (for perps, survivors, and organizers)
place for survivors to go to find automatic allies, support, and resources
getaway location people can go in order to heal outside of conflict. folks would dedicate time to caring for and processing with survivors
workshop guides
organizing tips
words of advice
how-to guides/toolkits
concrete tools/working examples
testimonials/ accountability success stories
newsletters (web and hard copy)
terminology/ shared language/glossary
zine library
models for doing work without a collective
healing and transformation of people doing with work (body-centered)
dealing with secondary trauma
strategies for confronting/dismantling CJ system
regionally/geographically organized (mapped)
critique of punitive justice
supporting the survivor supporters
network of therapists for referrals
event calendars by region
for youth
research on effectiveness
faith-based analysis

a radical voice to more traditional orgs
to isolated/rural people doing with work
to groups still in punitive justice
pop education on DV and partner abuse through churches and schools
introduce TJ to diff age groups and communities

would be good to have an international alliance of groups and link in with self-defense instructurs (NWMAF)
how can groups not necessarily doing TJ work, incorporate TJ into their group processes
How to have relationships with existing systems/groups doing TJ work
Make sure the network doesn’t turn into an “expert” body since folks are the experts of their own communities
Co-optation by the state/ mainstream DV/SA orgs; gradual assimilation/loss of radical analysis
Exclusion of non-radical groups
Ensure confidentiality of survivor and perpetrator

how do you address a perpetrator’s behavior when survivor shared information with you in confidence?
What do you do when perpetrator refuses to engage in a process
What to do when the community doesn’t seem to care (or enables perpetrator)
How do you deal with community trauma (community members being triggered/traumatized by assault that didn’t happen to them)
How to avoid TJ turning into support for perpetrators above survivors. how to guard against this and talk about it
How to engage people who feel accused right off the bat (typically white cis-men) of being “typical perpetrators.” How to help everyone realize that it is all of our jobs to change our actions and keep spaces safe
What do we do when unaccountable perpetrators are involved in accountability/SA prevention projects in their political work
How to challenge/work through a community that’s lost faith in accountability processes
Primary Prevention techniques outside of school settings (ex. bystander intervention models for local communities)
guarding against TJ becoming perp ally

PSU at the U.S. Social Forum, June 2010 in Detroit!

Posted: April 20, 2010 by Sunshine Superboy in Uncategorized

We have proposed a special session at the 2010 US Social Forum as part of a plan to launch a national network of groups doing grassroots transformative justice work. Our plan is to collaborate with other groups in organizing this workshop, as well as participate in session at the Allied Media conference (Also in Detroit the weekend before the Social Forum), and build off of that work in our Movement Building session.

Holla at us if you have a group (at any stage of development) and would like to join us in Detroit!!!

FAQ for our social forum proposal:

* What ideas do you want the participants to take away?

As individuals with experience working around Sexual Assault in our communities, we are ready to synthesize our scattered skills and isolated resources into a functioning national network for confronting Sexual Assault with Transformative Justice (defined by Generation FIVE as “The dual process of securing individual justice while transforming structures of social injustice that perpetuate such abuse.”) In this workshop/plenary we will brainstorm the needs of a national network — our short and long term visions for what a network would provide: monetary resources, training and skills building, a website for smooth and cohesive communication, and anti-oppression and alternative justice analyses. Our participants will walk away from the workshop with lots of ideas for participating in this new network, crucial questions to ask their organizations and communities in an effort to transform their work into Movement Building, as well as new friends and comrades to connect with and share support.

* How will participants be engaged?

Participants will be invited to give testimonials to the group about experiences, feelings, and thoughts they have around the work they do with survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault. Philly Stands Up Collective members and members of other invited groups will form a panel to answer and ask questions about their experiences doing this work for years. We will facilitate questions between the panel and back to the group to learn about participants’ needs, hopes, and lessons learned. Additional Pop Education games and tools will break up the plenary to creatively foster a dialogue about what is needed to build a national network. Some of the topics we hope to include: doing internal self care work, knowing when to step back from situations, setting clear boundaries, keeping a focus on Transformative justice in the middle of crisis, clamping down rumors in a community, making safer spaces accessible, understanding that accountability processes are ongoing. (We look forward to co-facilitating with other experienced groups; we’ve already begun reaching out to potential co-presenters.)

* What alternatives do you propose?

A smooth and cohesive National Network, which will connect all groups who serve survivors and work with perpetrators of Sexual Assault. This network will offer an alternative to the ways in which Left communities reproduce the punitive, alienating responses of the Prison Industrial Complex and Criminal Justice System in dealing with this pervasive and often silenced problem. We want to develop solutions that challenge these systems of violence and strive for lasting and meaningful justice; healing processes that strengthen communities rather than tearing them apart. Building this coalition will empower us to support one another, respond to a fuller spectrum of sexual assault, and proactively build a culture of consent.

* What strategies do you propose to achieve these alternatives?

We propose two main strategies. The first is to link up groups who are doing the work.This plenary is a precursor to an exciting Anti-Sexual Assault Action Camp which will be hosted by Philly Stands Up this coming fall. The Action Camp will be an important base-building opportunity for individuals and groups interested in joining our network to do skill sharing and to fine tune our vision and capacity to move forward. Additionally, we plan on hosting a Safe Space Dance party at the Social Forum, which will be a fundraiser for our new Network Website — a key tool in linking people together, sharing resources and building community. The second strategy is much broader and more ambitious. We are working to create a cultural shift toward sexual responsibility and communication. By pooling the educational resources of our network, we expand every group’s capacity tobring this movement home and fortify their communities.

Well, its not quite restorative justice, but there was one small step in that direction this week in the Senate, where former comedian come Senator Al Franken pushed for corporate perpetrators to be held accountable.

Sometimes men on capitol hill are pretty crude and blatant about their defense of sexual assault and male supremacy. The good news is, Senator Al Franken and people working for gender justice and against sexual assault won this week!

The following is cross-posted from another blog:
I think that all homo sapiens can understand how the mere thought of an organization that receives government money through contract mechanisms being tangentially involved in setting up a fake tax shelter for a fake pimp and his fake prostitution ring of fake prostitutes can justifiably lead to lawmakers going absolutely cross-eyed with white-hot, impotent rage. But what happens when a similarly taxpayer-endowed contractor attempts to cover up employee-on-employee gang rape by locking up the victim in a shipping container without food and water and threatening her with reprisals if she report the incident? Somehow, it doesn’t engender the same level of anger!

Credit new Senator Al Franken however, for introducing an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would punish contractors if they “restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” You’d think that this would be a no-brainer, actually, but that didn’t stop Jeff Sessions from labeling Franken’s effort a “political attack directed at Halliburton.” Franken, of course, pointed out that his amendment would apply broadly, to all contractors, because otherwise, ‘twould be a bill of attainder, right? Right?

Franken’s amendment ended up passing, 68-30. Here’s a list of the Senators who showed broad support for Roman Polanski by voting against it:

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

ADDENDUM: It’s been pointed out to me that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbied against the Franken amendment as well:

Republicans point out that the amendment was opposed by a host of business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and applies to a wide range of companies, including IBM and Boeing.

I guess we must cover up crimes like rape in order to save capitalism.

Read more about it


Posted: June 13, 2009 by abiology in Uncategorized

When talking about sexual assault we use specific language and terms intentionally. There is a need to have a common understanding of the terms that we use when communicating with each other. We use the terms “survivor” and “perpetrator” often. It is important in our work and in our communities that we are always questioning our philosophies, words, and meanings. Let’s take a look at the ways we have settled on these terms — we can see how we got here and where we need to push ourselves to go. Once our language gets stagnant, have our ideas also become fixed? This is the very beginning of an ongoing conversation that challenges our fundamental stance(s) on sexual assault by upsetting the language on which we rely.


We use the term survivor with the intention of using language that restores power to someone who has had power taken away from them. It is a response to the older common term of “victim” which only served to amplify the negative connotations heaped onto someone affected by sexual assault. Survivor is a positive term showing that the event has been overcome, but is still part of the person’s experience. But is this a concept complete for the survivor? Are all “survivors” comfortable with the term or feel that it applies to them? When does one get to leave the title of survivor behind? It is convenient to feel like the replacement of far more negative terms like victim suit our needs, but we should not rest in contentment and instead challenge the deeper meaning of applying a single term to such a wide range of complexity and experience. When we find ourselves referring to someone as a “survivor” over and over again, perhaps it is time to step back and look at the individuals experience as a whole – outside of just the word.

Likewise, we have settled into using “perpetrator” to commonly refer to the person opposite the survivor in a situation around sexual assault. We use this term because we feel that it represents a recognition that someone did something, not is something. It gives the opportunity for change while recognizing that their actions have hurt someone. This language is imperfect in serious ways as well. As with “survivor”, it may not be obvious that our definitions imply such things. We can ask the same questions that we ask when inserting the individuals position into the term of survivor: Do all perpetrators feel like the term applies to them? When does one get to leave the title of perpetrator behind? Furthermore, when we look at the larger implications of how we are approaching this work, we can see how “perpetrator” is reflecting the language of the oppressive systems we live under. While we have rejected the callous use of the term victim as used by the police – we still follow their use of the term perpetrator. We are trying to create a community based system that is outside of these institutions, so why should we replicate the same language?

These are terms of convenience and for now are the terms that we use. This is only to hope that we are challenging these ideas as we use them and are working on ways to evolve our language as our work around the issues at the heart of the matter evolves. Perhaps we should be challenging ourselves and each other to find easily understood and less problematic language to use around sexual assault.


Are there other terms you use or have heard for those who have been affected by sexual assault? Why were those used? Which ones feel good and which ones feel bad? Why? This is just the beginning. Let’s nurture and honor the path which has gotten us to this place and create the space to untangle the roots and go further.

Cross-posted from the whirlwinds project by team colors


This collection of resources and writing deals with the subject of sexual assault, which may have intense connotations or bring up difficult feelings and memories. Please consider reading this when you are in a safe space or have some one available to talk to about the material if necessary.

Grounding our work
by Em Squires


Relationships are slippery and wet like water. I can feel a relationship touch the flesh of my heart or the skin of my back, and I know it is there because I can feel that presence asking for my attention. I cannot explain the work of Philly Stands Up without talking about relationships. They explain how I got involved and why I stay committed. Our model and processes are rooted in a criss-crossed web of friendships we share with eachother, the working relationship(s) PSU builds with perpetrators of sexual assault, and each of our individual commitment to PSU as an organizing collective.

Almost two years ago, I decided to move to Philly. I couldn’t afford New York City and needed to get the hell out of the Midwest. I didn’t have a job, but I had a place to live with my friend Nic. Stevie and Nic raved about the magnitude of Philly’s awesome-ness and how much I would love it. So I did either the stupidest or bravest thing I’ve ever done – I packed a van, maxed out my credit card, and dropped a cannonball into the pool of my future with a vague agenda to “find some work” and, hopefully, meet some new people who would inspire and challenge me. Sink or swim. Either way, I would feel the water.

It was Stevie who sent me the email inviting me to my first PSU meeting. I had been in Philly for just over six months, working a demoralizing service job and was painfully clawing my way out of an abusive relationship. I was not in a great place. It was a long email, certainly the most formal email I’d ever received from him, but by the time I finished reading, my pulse was racing. Work with perpetrators of sexual assault? Engage with building a culture of consent within a sex-positive framework? I didn’t even really know what that meant. My own organizing background was grounded in anti-oppression youth organizing and the labor movement, with some work on gender, affirmative action, and independent media thrown into the mix. I was a teaching artist posing as a waitress – what did I know about working with perpetrators of assault? I went to the meeting not knowing what to expect. I left feeling like I had just breathed pure, undiluted oxygen for two hours.

It was early June, almost a year ago. I didn’t know a person in the room except for Stevie – but I could feel the energy prickle my skin, passionately delicate and oh-so-insistent. PSU members who were about to step back from the collective for various reasons – school, family, needing space, etc – talked about the history of the group, the Points of Unity, etc – and then we all went around and talked about why we were there, present in the room on this random Sunday evening. I had never even been part of an activist group that was so committed to process that we wrote down our organizing principles! And here I was – invited into a space that would never ask me to justify why I identify as queer, that would never question the “validity” or experience of being a queer woman in a f***ed up relationship with another woman, and would not only demand but value my voice, my agency, and my ability to articulate and respect my own limits. Although I was initially intimidated by my lack of relevant “experience,” the energy and interests of everyone present very quickly had me doing some quick internal surveys. Fine, I had never worked in this “field,” either academically or politically. However, the work I had just heard described to me was based on listening skills, relationship building, the belief that behavior can change, complex, radical, and queer-oriented analyses of power across multiple communities and potential identities, resource development, grassroots education, and a commitment to building a more sex-positive and responsible culture.
I was down with that.

Our work isn’t about fixing people. First of all, a perpetrator has to want to “work on their shit” – that’s our colloquial umbrella phrase to refer to a perpetrator who is willing to engage with us on the issue(s) at hand. The shit can include, but is certainly not limited to: a specific incident or [repeated] behavioral pattern of emotional, physical and/or sexual assault with an intimate partner or random stranger (or any person on the interpersonal spectrum in between), substance and alcohol abuse, mental health, and any number of other influencing factors. We are not “professional” therapists or social workers or health care professionals – we are a collective of individuals with all sorts of organizing experience(s) and interests and committed to radical social change. We share and constantly engage with an evolving analysis (see our Points of Unity for some examples) which influences not only how we approach situations and perpetrators as unique experiences, but also with our own internal group dynamic and intro-collective processing.

We don’t often “find” situations (what we call each separate “case,” usually involving a perpetrator, a chain of events, and some request for action and/or resources) – situations usually find us. Since we’ve been around for a couple years, we don’t have to do much self-promotion, and in reality, don’t have the member-capacity to do high-volume work. What happens most often is either a perpetrator will contact us, having heard about us through some workshop, friend, referral, etc and initiate contact and somehow communicate zi’s desire to “work on hir shit,” OR we’ll begin to work with a perpetrator via a shared situation with Philly’s Pissed. [I’m using gender-neutral pronouns here for two reasons: 1) PSU seeks to support and be an ally to trans folks in whatever ways we can, and part of that is being conscious of how we use basic pronoun language; and 2) We don’t want our language to perpetuate the myth that sexual assault is limited to heteronormative situations in which the man is the perpetrator and the woman is the survivor. Anyone – regardless of gender – can be a survivor or a perpetrator of assault.]

We do not have a magic “perpetrator-free” stamp that absolves someone from whatever pain they have caused another person or community; we work to build an honest and accountable space with perpetrators. This demands a good faith effort from both directions. I have friends who upon finding out about the subject of my Sunday night meetings, are like, “What the fuck are you doing? why perpetrators? none of those programs ever work.” Valid response. But PSU isn’t a program. No one is more aware than we are that we can’t work with every perpetrator. In some cases, perpetrators are also survivors of other situations. We try to see the whole person and the whole situation, however complex, and remain aware of our limitations.

It isn’t easy to go step-by-step through our process, since it’s different each time. Typically, we’ll begin to work with a perpetrator either through a referral through Pissed or because someone will email us directly and ask for help or resources. We meet weekly, and commit to “tasks” – whether it’s contacting someone about a workshop, working on an article for a zine, doing research, working on a situation, or being the group’s email checker for the week. We do a decent job of checking our mail, and it’s the responsibility of the email checker to not only check the emails, but to respond based on the time sensitivity of what is emailed (either a “do you need to talk so someone in an hour” or a “can we check in about your request at our meeting on Sunday, which is four days away” type of response). Every meeting starts with a personal check-in and ends with a check-out, and includes a mixture of debriefing current situations and “tasking” new situations, discussing or planning upcoming workshops, projects, or proposals, or doing internal educational work. Committing to work on a situation depends upon what information we know, who can do the work – not only logistically, but also with respect to personal limits and triggers.

We understand that we have to have the capacity and resources to be an ally in the specifics of any given situation. Sometimes, we don’t. We are learning that it is one thing to offer advice and recommend resources and try and connect folks with local support over distance (we get a lot of emails from people in all parts of the country), but that working with perpetrators over distance is incredibly difficult. We always work in teams on situations, so working over distance in teams requires phone calls, chats, and all manners of creative communication and scheduling. When we are able to work locally, we set up initial meetings in public places where everyone feels safe. Whether working locally or over distance, we are committed to centralizing survivor demands. This can look like making sure that copies of therapy receipts are available to whomever needs to see them, facilitating meetings with community members, or helping write letters of explanation/apology.

We’re not passing judgement on having long-distance relationships – but we are slowly realizing that the intimacy and honesty and reliance upon our gut feelings and intuition that we base our work upon is exponentially more facilitated by engaging with perpetrators face-to-face. It’s just a different dynamic. Working with perpetrators, situation by situation, requires that we are continuously checking in with ourselves (individually and collectively) about where we are at, what we need, how we feel, what hurts, what is too much, where is the wall? We can do, feel, and trust this more when we operate in real time.

My commitment to PSU is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever experienced with an activist collective. I don’t have to feel guilty about my time limits – for example, at the time of this writing, I haven’t been able to go to an actual meeting in at least a month because of my work schedule, but my ability to commit to write this article and pull together resources for this zine is internally embraced as a valid part of our work. My emotional boundaries are respected – and furthermore, my efforts to even articulate my boundaries in the first place are appreciated as necessary. People step up and step back on a week-to-week basis. Literally. I was a little dubious that this function of the collective was actually the truth, but I personally have been proven wrong multiple times. I have learned that working with PSU demands a lot of honesty. I have to be honest with myself about my own triggers, limits, boundaries, needs. I have to trust my friends in PSU to help me both identify and respect what I can and cannot do. I have to be able to hear each of their own capacity for our work. I think our commitment to healthy activism works because we centralize it at our meetings (by framing with personal check-ins and check-outs), we have pre-existing/outside-of-PSU friendships and shared/local social networks that are incredibly powerful, and because there is a shared common and radical analysis of power and oppression – which informs not only our Points of Unity, but also our ability to just be there for each other and create a safe space (which isn’t to say that we don’t work to develop that space and challenge ourselves). I can only speak for myself, but I know I approach relationships (whether platonic, intimate, or somewhere in between) in a fundamentally different way since I joined PSU.

I am a more confident and thoughtful communicator and I stick up for myself and my boundaries, needs, desires, and dreams a hell of a lot more. Our space is safe, but we are not stagnant – and neither is our work nor our process.

Drop us a line at

Cross-posted from the whirlwinds project by team colors


This collection of resources and writing deals with the subject of sexual assault, which may have intense connotations or bring up difficult feelings and memories. Please consider reading this when you are in a safe space or have some one available to talk to about the material if necessary.

Philly Stands Up- Our Approach, Our Analysis
by Esteban Kelly


Our point of departure is drastically different from mainstream analysis of sexual assault as it pertains to both survivors and perpetrators. In Philly Stands Up we always begin with an assessment of how we can support and take direction from survivors of sexual assault. Though the vast majority of our organizing is direct work with perpetrators, our view is that these efforts are perhaps the most important way that our group supports survivors and, by extension, the community of radical organizers of which we are a part.
Our project is an enabling project. Healthy individuals and safe spaces provide the basic foundation and capacity for people to kick ass in reconfiguring our society into one characterized by socio-economic justice and compassionate interpersonal dynamics.

When a sexual assault is committed, the entire community is affected. As organizers, addressing the harm to survivors and the community is an important way of sustaining organizing more broadly. Thus, three fundamental approaches to our work:

– A steadfast commitment to supporting survivors through centralizing their needs to assert control and power in their lives and surroundings. Also, because Philly Stands Up is firmly against violent retribution in principle, we focus our energy into creating positive mechanisms that validate and support survivors.
– The belief in the particularity of each sexual assault situation, and with it, a unique effort and opportunity for the perpetrator to better understand physical, sexual, and emotional boundaries and communication
– The intrinsic importance of humanizing perpetrators; to be grounded in compassion as a source of strength in persevering through very difficult work and transgressing the ubiquitous alienation that haunts everyone affected by sexual assault situations.

In Philly Stands Up, we tether our work to reaching out to perpetrators of sexual assault while maintaining the centrality of the survivors, from whom we take our cues in determining the actions and progress that need to transpire for the overall healing in assault aftermath. The key mental shift that sets us on a new path in sexual assault community organizing is in refusing to distance ourselves from perpetrators of sexual assault, or even to presume that all perpetrators could be characterized by a particular moment of awful behavior.

It was only after we had spent time working with perpetrators (and of course survivors) that our current analysis really took form. On the one hand, in the aftermath of a sexual assault survivors can feel a loss of power and control over their bodies, their environment, their lives and their community. Our work, therefore, is grounded in helping to empower survivors (directly or indirectly) by aiding them in feeling safe and by assisting them in exerting control over their selves, their space and the world around them. On the other hand, the perpetrator has lost the trust of the survivor and the community. This trust is not just lost in terms of sex, but also in terms of social relationships, politics, and solidarity.

Those directly and indirectly affected by sexual assault are reluctant to trust the perpetrator as an organizer, worker, neighbor, performer, leader, roommate, or peer. So our work in Philly Stands Up is to help rebuild trust. To interrupt what may be patterns in the behavior of perpetrators of sexual assault. This commitment to work with rather than punish or criminalize the perpetrator is imperative to them once again becoming fully functional, trustworthy, and participating members of the community. In some cases survivors may still not want the perpetrator to be in their community. In Philly Stands Up we do what we can to support the wishes of the survivor and see the work of restoring trust and responsibility to perpetrators as essential to any community in which they will end up living. For that reason, one of the main functions we provide in our community is as a buffer, where we can distinguish ourselves as a more appropriate space for perpetrators to vent their concerns, frustrations, and perspective while coming to terms with and understanding the implications of their actions. In this way we hold perpetrators accountable for their analysis and behavior, and prevent future assaults by facilitating personal growth on both fronts.

One of our main contentions with most standard treatment of perpetrators of sexual assault is that they are typically dismissed as criminals. We call for a closer look at the people, their behavior and the social dynamics that surround sexual assault to be considered much more thoroughly in order to effectively rectify the damages that result from sexual assault situations and ultimately prevent them from occurring at all. In our experience, when pre-established structures like this are in place, people called out for sexual assault have been less likely to cling to defensiveness and denial since they can trust that there will be space for things to be worked out, and they are also less likely to fear immediate physical harm.

In taking a closer look at typical responses to sexual assault beyond radical communities, we noticed that perpetrators are rarely factored into the daily lives of the community at large. Instead, perpetrators are punitively shuffled off to various criminalizing apparatuses (strongly linked to the prison industrial complex), and left out of what we see as highly gendered social services, which focus almost exclusively on (non-trans) female survivors. It must be clear that our group does not outright refute the resources (legal, social, and otherwise) that are available for these women. We certainly recognize the importance of such services and see other local organizations as allies by and large in our work. However, in doing so, we remain acutely aware of the limitations of their impact, most notably in losing sight of the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of sexual assault, and in neglecting to serve the diversity of classes, genders, ethnicities, linguistic communities (e.g. English & Spanish speakers) and so on, that do not neatly coincide with the target population of certain women-only resources.

Those of us in Philly Stands Up refuse to pretend that sexual assault only constitutes a certain action among certain persons (i.e. rape of women by men). Anyone can be assaulted. Anyone is capable of transgressing somebody else’s boundaries. Our analysis (which is by no means a “definition”) encompasses and extends beyond rape- in its most strict sense- to include any situation that a survivor identifies as a breach of a particular boundary, or a lack of consent in a sexual situation. We distance ourselves from the criminal justice outlook that demands “objective facts” be presented to a judge and jury, a trend we have seen in our community, and many others. Philly Stands Up goes beyond that, seeking to reconcile all of the pieces of a situation. We acknowledge that clarity and guilt aside, people involved in the messy business that we find ourselves in are hurt, and feel that something painful and difficult has transpired, whether or not it would be “legally” recognized as assault. And regardless of the specifics, there are relationships that need to be healed or perhaps kept apart with community support.

It is worth noting that as organizers in Philly Stands Up the other half of our work is a proactive campaign to stimulate and embolden “a culture of sexual responsibility.” This is a broader preventative educational project that includes a multi-sited animation of intentions, actions, and expectations that raise consciousness around all moments of (potential) sexual behavior. This is ambitious, but vitally important work. In this other mode of our work, we create workshops, trainings, and consultations where we try to stimulate deep commitments to clearer communication that fosters consent and mutuality. When we are invited to speak at conferences, or to campuses and grassroots groups we don’t show up tell other people how communication is done, but rather help to tease out the local character and specificity of each group or community’s norms of conduct to maximize mutual understanding and respect for personal or group boundaries. In spite of the heavy work that addressing sexual assault necessitates, we see all of that balanced by assembling working, positive models of consent. Hence one of our (many) unofficial mottoes: Consent is sexy! Each of us can be enablers for people in our lives to find new and particular ways to enact that. Imagine positive sexual encounters declined, postponed, and felt, unspoken, signaled, whispered, and yes, beckoned in a multitude of articulations.

Finally, the type of work we do in Philly Stands Up should not be ghettoized and left to the purview of sexual assault organizers from city to city, but incorporated into the routine functions of any organizing collective. Through an explosion of our project- to holistically heal communities and invigorate sexual responsibility everywhere, all of the time- we strengthen one another as organizers with deeper trust and more salient accountability. We believe in spaces, where sex and physicality are varyingly turned down, spiced up, and deal with confidentially but forthrightly. That honesty can and should be as much a part of our organizing as the daily decisions we make to upend injustice in order to exist in this world in radically new ways.
balance of power